KEY FACTS: The biggest report into campus sexual assault and what you need to know.

With AAP.

Today is sure to be one of mixed emotions for survivors of campus sexual assault, for their friends, family, and for the advocates that work so hard to ensure their voices are heard.

Because today, two years after The Hunting Ground Australia Project began lobbying for and driving such research, the Australian Human Rights Commission released its report into sexual assault and harassment on Australian university campuses.

The survey heard from more than 30,000 students across Australia’s 39 universities, and paints a picture of the frequency, nature and responses to student sexual assault.

Among the key findings:

  • 51 per cent of university students were sexually harassed at least once in 2016.
  • One in four students was harassed in a university setting (on campus, while travelling to university, at a university-endorsed social event or in university employment).
  • One in three harassment incidents happened on university grounds or in classrooms.
  • 6.9 per cent were sexually assaulted (about one in 15).
  • 1.6 per cent of students were assaulted in a university setting (almost one in four of the total who were sexually assaulted).
  • One in five of these assaults happened at university or residence social events.
  • Women were almost twice as likely as men to be harassed, and more than three times as likely to be assaulted.
  • 51 per cent of those who reported assault or harassment knew the perpetrator – most likely to be a fellow student.
  • 94 four per cent of those harassed and 87 per cent of those assaulted at university did not make a formal complaint or report.
  • Six in 10 students said they didn’t know how to formally report or complain about incidents.
  • College hazing rituals persist, sometimes with the knowledge and consent of administrators. (One college had a “feral women’s night” where first-year residents were force-fed alcohol, told to remove their tops and serve drinks to older male residents, all while being subjected to derogatory comments and chants, the report said.)

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said the ‘Change the Course’ report painted a disturbing picture of the prevalence rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment at universities, and that parents ought to be aware of the increased risk faced by their children.

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment are far too prevalent in university settings, as they are in the broader community,” she said.

Commissioner Jenkins noted that there was also significant under-reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment to universities.

“Universities need to do more to prevent such abuse from occurring in the first place, to build a culture of respect and to respond appropriately by supporting victims of abuse and sanctioning perpetrators.”

In its initial response to the report, Universities Australia announced a 10-point plan to help prevent assault and harassment, better support students, and provide more training for staff.

To survivors, the group’s chair Professor Margaret Gardner apologised.


“We are sorry that this happened to you,” Prof Gardner said. “Sexual assault is a crime. The person who sexually assaulted you had no right to do what they did. It is not your fault.”

National Union of Students president Sophie Johnston described the findings as heartbreaking.

“I think it wasn’t necessarily because they were different or any more severe than what I expected, I guess it was just, after decades and decades of silence from so many victims, to actually hear the voices and see these stories is very confronting.”

It was to those survivors and their allies that advocacy group End Rape on Campus Australia today addressed its statement; a statement urging them to remember that, despite the headlines, sound bites and media releases that will follow the report, “today belongs to you”.

“To the survivors who reported harassment, assaults and rapes to their universities in previous decades, only to be ridiculed, ignored or silenced: we believe you. Today belongs to you. To the student activists, advocates and allies who have fought this fight from the 1960s onward: we thank you. Today belongs to you.

“To family, friends, student representatives and advocates who believed survivors: we thank you. Today belongs to you.

“While the Australian Human Rights Commission’s University Sexual Harassment and Assault Project is coming to an end, our work is just beginning. We’re not going anywhere. And universities should be prepared for that.”

National 24-hour support line for university students 1800 572 224, with access to Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia counsellors.